Craig Masback's Blog
Number 6 - Tuesday, September 4, 2007
As I strolled from the subway to Nagai Stadium in Osaka for Sunday's final day of competition at the World Track & Field Championships, my iPod shuffled to Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, a good omen if ever there was one. Even prior to the final day, it had been a Championships to remember for Team USA, and the last day put an exclamation point on that performance.
The superlatives have been well documented and were . . . . super:
For all the superlatives, the real achievements were more subtle, but more important for the future. Having averaged about 17 medals for World Championships between 1995 and 2003, Team USA has now averaged over 25 medals in 2004/2005/2007 - a 50% increase at a time when the competition has become demonstrably tougher. And the depth is outstanding, as we had 20 athletes finish in 4th through 8th place.
In addition, the Osaka success came in the same time zone and similar weather to what athletes will experience at the Beijing Olympics. I was particularly pleased to read press reports about the "extreme" Osaka weather that featured athletes and officials from other countries whining and complaining about the conditions while our athletes offered a positive "it's what we're used to at home" viewpoint.
There were two distinctive things about the Osaka experience. First, it was the best USA "Team" ever. Though a mix of wizened veterans and newcomers, it bonded better than any team of which I've been a part. The positive dynamic was the result of a successful pre-Osaka training camp, the constant attention to athlete needs by an outstanding team staff, and the athletes themselves. While at the training camp, the athletes put on a talent show - there's nothing like Dwight Phillips singing lullabies or Adam Nelson doing a Louie Armstrong imitation to bring people together. And, you saw the positive team dynamic every night as team members and staff stayed up late to welcome "home" that night's medalists with applause, hugs, and an apple cider toast.
Second, Osaka was a winning combination of expected victories and unanticipated performances. The team competed with spirit, dignity, and toughness. No one better exemplified a scrappy belief in the possible than hurdler David Payne. Less than four hours after getting a call asking him to fill in for injured Dominique Arnold, he was on a plane to Japan. Arriving the following night after a 16-hour trip, he had to get up early the next morning to get credentialed and head straight to the track for his first round race. The next day, he had the fastest time in the semifinals. One day later in the finals, he ran a personal best by .10 and won a bronze medal.
In the end, our athletes were embraced by the people of Osaka for their outstanding on-track performance and warmth and accessibility off the track. When Allyson Felix and Tyson Gay circled the track holding both American and Japanese flags, the crowd roared with approval at the athletes' "thank you" gesture. Those athletes who experienced Osaka are already looking forward to next year. This year's success is not just an end in itself but a great platform for success in Beijing.